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Burning Questions

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Burning Questions for Week 14 vs. Bengals

The biggest questions the Browns face in their quest for a third straight win Sunday against the Bengals


The Browns could be facing their toughest challenge left in the regular season Sunday in Cincinnati.

With five games left, the Bengals (8-4) are arguably the best squad left on the Browns' schedule — and the Browns (5-7) likely need a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. But with having Deshaun Watson at QB and entering Sunday with wins in their last two games, the Browns have plenty of momentum they believe they can sustain against the Bengals, who have lost to the Browns in their last five matchups.

Will the Browns make it six? These are the biggest questions they face in doing so.

Check out photos of players and coaches working to prepare for the teams regular season game against the Cincinnati Bengals

1. What type of improvements will Watson make?

All eyes will be on Watson again after a less-than-stellar Browns debut last week in Houston. The offense failed to find the end zone — the first time that's happened in a game Watson started in his career — but the Browns still managed to find a win with two touchdowns from the defense and one from special teams.

Those plays won't happen every week, of course, and the Browns and Watson both know that they'll need more production quickly to remain in the hunt. Watson identified a few of the errors that led to some of his incomplete passes that showed how much rust he has to knock off.

"It was just more mechanics, just my base, my shoulder plane and my shoulder leverage and keeping that up high," he said. "It was just all fundamentals with that."

The offense is capable of doing a lot more with Watson than what they showed last Sunday, and that includes more run-pass option plays and QB bootlegs that get Watson moving and allow him to make plays with his legs. Those plays will likely become more frequent once Watson shows more consistency.

The Browns didn't expect Watson to emerge from his 11-game suspension in perfect form, but they do expect him to show signs of progress now that his first start is over.

"There was a lot on his plate going into that game both on the field and off," offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said. "Now that we got that one under the belt, expect to see strides each week. Yeah, there were definitely some things that we have addressed, and he's worked really hard to improve those this week."

2. Can the defense shut down Burrow again?

The success the Browns have had against Bengals QB Joe Burrow has been well-documented this week, and there's plenty of reasons to believe the Browns can uphold that success Sunday.

Yes, Burrow is playing well right now — he's tied for second among NFL quarterbacks with 25 passing TDs and is second with 3,446 passing yards behind Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes. He's coming off a win against Mahomes and the No. 2-seeded Chiefs, too.

But the Browns have had Burrow's number ever since his rookie season in 2020. Burrow hasn't beaten the Browns in four starts, and the Browns slowed Burrow significantly in a blowout 32-13 win in Week 8, even when the defense had struggled with inconsistencies in previous weeks before the game.

When asked if there's anything unique the Browns have done to limit him, Burrow replied with "They have Myles Garrett. That's different from everybody else."

Garrett has sacked Burrow six times in his four starts against them. Another sack or two Sunday might give the Browns the jolt they need to keep Burrow bottled up again.

3. How will Browns CBs handle Chase?

Burrow didn't have his top receiving playmaker, WR Ja'Marr Chase, in the last meeting with the Browns. Chase was sidelined for four games due to a hip injury, but he returned last week and caught seven passes for 97 yards against the Chiefs.

Now, he's back and will provide the Browns with an added challenge from what they saw against the Bengals in Week 8. The sample size is small, but the Browns did an excellent job holding Chase to six receptions for 49 yards in Week 9 last season, which has been the only game Chase has played in full against them so far as he nears the end of his second NFL season.

"I like matchups like those and enjoy those matchups so definitely looking forward to him being back and going against those guys," CB Denzel Ward said. "They have a great receiving group and a great quarterback obviously. I think it will be just a great matchup to go against offense and defense."

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